School of Social and Political Science

Jessica Cooper

Job Title

Lecturer in Social Anthropology

Research interests

Research interests

Care, ethics, affect theory, madness, law, governance, psychoanalysis, Theories of Punishment, the state, ethnographic methods, Anthropology of the United States

If you are interested in being supervised by Jessica Cooper, please see the links below for more information:


Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork at sites of criminal justice reform, mental health clinics, and homeless encampments in the San Francisco Bay Area, my research explores connections and disjunctures between systems of inequality, care, and social justice. Rather than rely on structural explanations for persistent racism and poverty in the United States, I examine how intimate socialities manage to refract, reify, and also refuse coordinates of broader systems of social inequality. My first book project, Unaccountable: Surreal Life in California’s Mental Health Courts, reveals the ways in which relationships between criminal justice professionals and their clients unravel state power by inhabiting care as an alternative to the individualizing discourse of liberal responsibility. Drawing on observations of and participation in relationships among staff, clients, and clients' families in mental health courts, Unaccountable explores emergent ethics elicited by the demand to provide care for mentally ill individuals as a project of social justice amidst absent state services and vast material inequalities. My research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Society for Psychological Anthropology/Lemelson Foundation, and the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Program in American Studies at Princeton University. I received my PhD in Anthropology from Princeton University.

Recent publications

Research Articles


Unruly Affects: Attempts at Control and All That Escapes from an American Mental Health Court. Cultural Anthropology 33(1): 85-108.


Trapped: The Limits of Care in California's Mental Health Courts. Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order. Special Volume: Ethnographic Explorations of Punishment and the Governance of Security. Robert Werth, ed. 44(1): 121-141.



On Morality: Homelessness, Sociality, and the Promises We Break. Political and Legal Anthropology Review.


Review of Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Line of Community Psychiatry, by Paul BrodwinCulture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 38(1): 160-162.

Public Scholarship


Justice: A Conversation with Jessica Greenberg, Karen Ann Faulk, Jessica Cooper, and Naisargi N. Dave. Cultural Anthropology: Correspondences.

What Does Not Cohere: An Interview with Jessica Cooper. Interview conducted by Marzieh Kaivanara. Cultural Anthropology: Dialogues.


Violence a Long Way Back: An Interview with Angela Garcia (co-authored with Andrés Romero). Cultural Anthropology: Dialogues.

Works within

Staff Hours and Guidance

To book an appointment, please click here.